This was also a debate that expected to deliver a lot of fireworks and entertainment given the back and forth hits Romney and Gingrich were targeting at each other.
Are we not entertained?
PJ Media has one of the better recaps of the debate in their Tatler post...
The debate of late in Florida’s primary has devolved to name-calling between Romney and Gingrich, and about 16 minutes in, Gingrich called Romney “the most anti-immigrant candidate,” using the language of the left to conflate legal and illegal immigration. Romney reminded Gingrich and the audience that Gingrich had had to pull down an ad in Florida making that allegation. Romney showed fire in disputing Gingrich’s claim, also winning on the facts, and earned a pair of ovations. For anyone who thinks Gingrich will consistently take the fight to the left, this exchange should serve as a warning that he may adopt the language and the tactics of the left when he believes it suits him.
Just before the half hour mark, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul sparred over US foreign policy in South and Central America. Paul called for trade with Cuba, which is a reasonable position to take, but then blamed the US for “choosing dictators” and other assorted crimes in the region. As usual, he offered no understanding of US foreign policy or the roles our enemies have played, other than that what America does is bad and he would do something differently. Santorum won the round by calling out the Obama foreign policy of disrespecting pro-US countries like Honduras and Colombia while sidling up to Venezuela and Cuba.
Newt Gingrich did not repeat his South Carolina performance. In my opinion, this was one of Gingrich's worst debate performances. His attempt to recreate the South Carolina ovation by attacking CNN Moderator Wolf Blitzer misfired badly as Blitzer neatly parried the attack.
One of the things that is becoming obvious, and a real concern about a Gingrich nomination, is not only his continued preference to make attacks on his rivals from the hard left position, but for someone who is touting himself as the real conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, he is trying to appeal to conservatives by touting big government visions and programs in a time when we have a major economic challenge related to Obama's big government vision and programs.
Rick Santorum had a very strong debate. I have him tied with Mitt Romney on my scorecard (to follow) - but if someone says that they think Santorum might have edged a point or two higher than Romney, I will not have an issue with it. Santorum's sparring with Paul on foreign policy was effective, but when it came to questions on family and faith values, Santorum was very good. His closing argument was particularly strong as he was the last to go. Unfortunately for Rick Santorum, he is too far back and too cash poor to really challenge Gingrich as the 'Not Romney' candidate. He will finish a distant third on Tuesday.
Ron Paul's best point of the debate was when he challenged the others to a 25 mile bike ride in Texas to demonstrate his age (76) and health are not concerns. Paul is not really campaigning hard in Florida - choosing instead to focus his efforts on the next caucus states where his organization / supporters can have a bigger impact. He remains challenged on his foreign policy viewpoint and was delusional thinking he could be a real challenge for Barack Obama in November.
Mitt Romney had a very good debate. He scored some real damage against Newt Gingrich countering the Gingrich attacks on his immigration stance and personal wealth / investments. He got the audience behind him - which had the Gingrich team starting to complain today that Romney 'stacked' the audience. But the Romney debate was not without missteps. One major misstep that Gingrich failed to exploit was in the discussion on healthcare / Romneycare / Obamacare to which Romney started a reply off by saying, "It's not worth getting angry about...". Conservatives and GOP members do think that Obamacare / nationalized healthcare is worth getting angry about....and worth repealing.
Rick Santorum - B+
Mitt Romney - B+
Newt Gingrich - C
Ron Paul - D+
We've got about a month's reprieve before the next debate...which will be quite welcome.
Predictions for Florida?
Ron Paul 10.5%